Passage to India: Having the option of seeing either The Avengers or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a no-brainer for me (and it has little to do with “demographics”). The opportunity to watch actors of the caliber of Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith at the top of their games shouldn’t be passed up no matter what your age. (Witness how the film has quietly made its way to the top ten in U.S. box-office receipts.)
Set in Jaipur, Marigold tells the story of a group of retirees who by choice or necessity (mostly necessity) leave England for (unbeknownst to them) misleadingly photoshopped lodgings in the center of the bustling Indian metropolis. Plot really matters not that much, as the film focuses more on the spiritual awakenings they undergo when faced with the tumult and fascination of the Hindu culture. The quality of the acting is such that one feels less an observer than a participant in the zone of emotional realism occupied by these seasoned veterans.
What more can be said about Dame Judi (shown left and reunited here with John Madden, who directed her Oscar-winning performance in Shakespeare in Love)? Her intelligent eyes raise the bar for the IQ of actors allowed in her presence. Bill Nighy, who has probably the singular dramatic moment in the movie, as a sensitive man senselessly clinging to a loveless marriage, is typically excellent (though alas, he and Dench lack the chemistry to make their eventual attraction to each other believable.) Maggie Smith is Maggie Smith, dry and wonderfully wry as always. And then there’s the awesome Tom Wilkinson, who provides the most moving and understated performance of the whole lot. His character’s sad yet ultimately liberating reasons for returning to the country of his youth make for a memorable and haunting segment of the film. (For the younger crowd, Dev Patel, previously of Slumdog Millionaire, provides Red Bull-fueled freneticism as the novice manager of what was once his father’s hotel.)
A celebration of all the changes that can be possible no matter how late in life, Marigold is also an affirmation of human resiliency, or as the Dench character narrates at one point, “The only real failure is failure to try, and the only measure of success is how we cope with disappointment.” An uplifting message at the heart of a sweet and satisfying film.